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Search results: "ottessa moshfegh" (page 1 of 7)

Lapvona – Ottessa Moshfegh

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In Lapvona, the much-anticipated new novel from Ottessa Moshfegh, a disabled shepherd boy living in a medieval fiefdom finds himself an unlikely replacement for the murdered son of a tyrannical lord, but it’s not enough to replace the love he imagines for his mutilated mother (whom he was told died in childbirth).

So, yeah, it’s Moshfegh’s usual lighthearted fare. A rom-com romp guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Seriously, folks, if you pick up Lapvona just because you enjoyed My Year Of Rest And Relaxation and you recognised Moshfegh’s name, you’re in for a rude shock. This is a guttural story about the most grim and grotesque aspects of human nature.

One review of Lapvona went viral a few weeks ago (in #bookstagram networks, anyway), describing it as “[a] new novel of medieval brutality [that] aims for the Marquis de Sade but ends up closer to Shrek“. That’s a spectacular roast, but it just made me all the more eager to read it (and all the more grateful to Penguin Books Australia for sending through a copy for review).

It’s every bit as horrifying as it sounds (and then some), with moments of insight so searing and quotable it’s like looking into the sun.

Marek guessed that Villiam could use his wealth to influence God’s will. That was the way things worked, Marek thought. If you didn’t have money, you had to be good.

Lapvona (page 53)

A comprehensive trigger warning would be longer than your arm, but of particular note: animal cruelty (there was one specific incident with a dog that made me put the book down and cuddle my own), abuses of power, sadism, self-harm, cannibalism…

Lapvona is masterful and revolting. I’m glad to have read it, and glad that it’s over. I’d imagine that’s exactly what Moshfegh was going for.

(Bonus: I loved this Vulture piece about – among other things – Moshfegh’s apparent obsession with the scatological.)

Buy Lapvona on Booktopia here.

Becky – Sarah May

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Ambitious and determined, Becky Sharp is going to scheme her way into high society. She slips unnoticed through the ranks, weaponising the secrets she uncovers about the movers and shakers, until she gets what she wants. Is it William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, or the latest novel by Sarah May, Becky? Believe it or not, it’s both – but I’m specifically talking about the latter, because Macmillan Australia was kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Becky begins in 1989, when Becky Sharp starts working as a nanny for a family of newspaper moguls. She doesn’t have her sights set on a career in childcare, though – she wants to work at The Mercury. Amelia Sedley is the widely-adored almost-too-nice nanny for the family upstairs, and the two form an unlikely alliance.

Becky, of course, eventually lands her dream job, breaking the biggest stories of the decade at the country’s most notorious tabloid newspaper. She marries up, levels up, and she seems unstoppable. But, as we all know, journalism has a big shake-up coming (a couple of them, actually) and our (anti?)heroine may yet topple from the top.

Becky is like if a British Ottessa Moshfegh told the story of the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal, using Vanity Fair as a template. May touches on everything – gender inequality, colonialism, celebrity culture, corruption in politics, the wealth gap – without overegging the pudding. She offers incredible moments of blazing insight (“There are no female toilets on the executive floor,” page 149), and a rollicking story to boot – far more fun to read than the 19th century version.

Buy Becky on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing – Jessie Tu

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Child prodigies are cute, but have you ever wondered what happens to them when they grow up?

The story of one such prodigy unfolds in A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing, the debut novel of Australian writer Jessie Tu. It’s not a stretch to imagine that at least some aspects of this story are autobiographical, as Tu herself trained for fifteen years as a classical violinist. Still, I hope from her sake that her story isn’t too close to that of her central character… The fine folks at Allen and Unwin were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Jena’s career as a violinist came to a screeching halt as a teenager, after a public humiliation that “blew up the lives” of her, her family, and her teacher. She has retreated from the spotlight, playing as part of an orchestra, and uses self-destructive sex to fill the void (heads up: it’s not one for the prudish, Jena is… unabashed).

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing interrogates female desire, relationships, and power – it’s Ottessa Moshfegh meets Lisa Taddeo.

11 Books About Stalking

One of the scariest things about the crime of stalking is how close it feels: we could all become the object of obsession, or ourselves become obsessed. It’s the kind of crime that seems to happen by degrees. Does the person we see at the park every day have their own reasons for being there, or are they following us? Is checking our ex’s Instagram every day just part of the break-up process, or is it the gateway to more dangerous behaviour? Here are eleven books about stalking that will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing right up.

11 Books About Stalking - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Milkman by Anna Burns

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The narrator of Milkman is an unnamed 18-year-old who is being stalked by an older man, a paramilitary honcho, in Belfast at the height of the Troubles. Despite her rebuffing his offers of “lifts” and “talks”, and her quasi-relationship with a more age-appropriate man, rumours start to spread around the insular community that she and the milkman are having a torrid affair. Everything is heightened, everything is politicised, and everything is prone to being extrapolated upon by the community. It’s a complex book about the culture of violence and silence, at the interpersonal level and writ large across society. Read my full review of Milkman here.

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

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Anyone who’s ever been in therapy knows the deal. It’s meant to be private. Like, seriously private. But what if a therapist is writing a book? What if he’s getting someone to transcribe audio recordings of someone’s sessions? And what if that transcriber were to… fall in love with the patient? That’s basically the premise of Big Swiss. It would be one thing if Greta simply fell in love with a voice on the tapes she transcribes, but she takes it one step further, and then another, and then another. Gradually, her life intertwines with that of the woman whose deepest, darkest secrets she already knows. Read my full review of Big Swiss here.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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You’ll probably be drawn to The Silent Patient for the central mystery: why does the institutionalised woman who shot her husband refuse to speak? Can the psychotherapist obsessed with her case end her six-year silence? But as the story progresses, you’ll realise the two central characters have something in common: they were both victimised by a nameless, faceless man. For Alicia, it was her stalker. For Theo, it was his wife’s lover. As the man gets closer to each of them, the tension rises to almost unbearable heights. Is it just therapeutic countertransference between Alicia and Theo? Or are they actually connected? Read my full review of The Silent Patient here.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

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Pick up The Nothing Man when you’re looking for an intricately-plotted, meta-fictional, pulse-racing thriller that will have you asking towards the end: who’s stalking who? The title is the moniker given to the man who assaulted and murdered a series of people in the early 2000s; they called him that because the Gardaí had “nothing” on him. The serial killer who terrorised Cork for years is now a security guard at a supermarket, and one day he shows up at work to discover a memoir by his only surviving victim on the shelves. As he reads more about his crimes and the girl who got away, he realises she might be closer to discovering his true identity than he thought. Read my full review of The Nothing Man here.

You by Caroline Kepnes

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You is not only one of the best-selling books about stalking in the past decade, it’s also the one that will hit closest to home for booklovers. A beautiful, aspiring writer visits a bookstore in the East Village one day, not realising that she’s catching the eye of the man behind the counter. Joe is captivated by the customer, and Googles the name on her credit card – and finds everything he needs to know to mastermind another ‘chance’ encounter with her. He goes on to orchestrate a series of events that will drive her into his open arms. An obsessive stalker turned loving boyfriend – what could go wrong?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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You might be surprised to see The Great Gatsby in a list of books about stalking, but it really does belong here. If we didn’t all get so caught up in the Jazz Age glitz and glamour, and the apparently romantic tragedy of the disintegrating American Dream, we’d see this ‘classic’ for what it is. Gatsby uses his wealth and privilege to draw the woman he’s loved from afar (read: stalked) for years into his arms, despite the fact that she’s married to someone else and dealing with her own problems. We’re supposed to think it’s charming, not creepy, because he’s rich and persistent – but it should really set off all of the #MeToo alarm bells. Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

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Look, there’s a lot going on in Eileen. You could make the argument that a little stalking is the least of the titular character’s character flaws, and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, that in itself is an interesting commentary on the nature of stalking as a crime – it rarely occurs in isolation. Eileen is miserable in all aspects of her life, from caring for her alcoholic father in their squalid home to her dreary job as a secretary in a prison. Her stalking behaviours are an escape from the horrors of her day-to-day life, and in that light they become almost understandable, though not quite forgiveable.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

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People-watching is a harmless pastime for most of us – but when does it cross the line into something more sinister? For the protagonist in The Girl On The Train, it happens around the time she notices something amiss between the couple she’s christened Jess and Jason in her mind. She watches them from the window of the train, more often than not in a drunken haze. She might be the only one who’s noticed something terrible has happened – but can she trust her own perspective? The only way to know for sure is to find out more, and that’s when lines start being crossed. Read my full review of The Girl On The Train here.

Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller

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It’s hard to believe that the teacher who ‘has an affair’ (read: grooms and abuses) an adolescent student isn’t the creepiest character in Notes On A Scandal, but here we are. The story is narrated by Barbara, a veteran teacher at a London school who (to put it mildly) has trouble making friends. She’s captivated by the new art teacher, Sheba, and slowly integrates herself into the woman’s life, insisting they’re BFFs (despite all evidence to the contrary). However, the closer she gets to Sheba, the more she learns about Sheba’s secrets, and the more dangerous their strange friendship becomes. Read my full review of Notes On A Scandal here.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

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A story set in a remote renovated mental asylum is creepy enough, but with the addition of a stalker? The Sanatorium will have you shitting your pants, for sure. Traumatised detective Elin arrives at the new themed hotel at the invitation of her estranged brother, to celebrate his engagement. When his fiancee mysteriously disappears, and a sudden storm cuts off all access to the rest of the world, all of Elin’s bad gut feelings are confirmed. Someone is lurking in the shadows, getting closer each time she gets nearer to uncovering the truth. Read my full review of The Sanatorium here.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I'm Thinking Of Ending Things - Iain Reid - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Most editions of I’m Thinking Of Ending Things are published with no blurb, so you truly go in blind, which really ratchets up the tension. The story begins with a nameless narrator and her boyfriend, Jake, in a car en route to visit Jake’s parents for the first time. She’s thinking of ending things between them, but Jake doesn’t know that yet. The narrator is also being stalked by The Caller, a man who leaves her cryptic voicemails, somehow calling her from her own number. “How do we know when something is menacing? What cues us that something is not innocent?” she asks on page 17. “Instinct always trumps reason.” Read my full review of I’m Thinking Of Ending Things here.

10 Fiction Books About Prison

For someone who’s never been to prison, it can be hard to imagine what it feels like. Like with any experience, though, one of the most accessible ways to build empathy and understanding is to read fiction about it. These ten fiction books about prison offer their own unique insights into the psychological realities of incarceration, across geographies and decades.

10 Fiction Books About Prison - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace begins in 1851, when the narrator, Grace, is 24 years old. She has already been imprisoned for eight years, and being a rather well-behaved prisoner, her days are spent as a domestic servant in the Governor’s home. Margaret Atwood uses this as the foundation to tell a fictionalised version of the life and crimes of the real Grace Marks, a servant who (along with her boyfriend) were tried and convicted of the 1843 murders of the householder Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper (slash secret lover) Nancy Montgomery. Atwood, of course, does a fantastic job of capturing the emotional swings of such a life, peppered with details of the practical realities. Read my full review of Alias Grace here.

In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka

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Perhaps it’s cheating to include a short story in a list of fiction books about prison, but in true Kafka fashion, In The Penal Colony is so wonderfully complex that you’ll probably spend longer digesting it than you would a standard 300-page novel. The story is set, as the title suggests, in an otherwise-unnamed penal colony, where condemned prisoners are subjected to punishment by an elaborate torture device. The machine is programmed to carve their crimes into their skin, slowly executing them over the course of hours. It’s brutal, yes, but it’s narrated with a detachment that will grip you as much as it disturbs you.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

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Albert Camus knocked it out of the park with his very first published novella, The Stranger (sometimes published as The Outsider). At first, it barely seems to be a fiction book about prison; rather, it’s about an ordinary man with flattened affect after the death of his mother who murders a man on an Algiers beach in extraordinary circumstances. However, as you read through, you’ll experience both the crime and its consequences, including his incarceration and descent into madness. Camus said his story explores “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd”, which is a pretty good summary.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

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Most of these fiction books about prison focus on the experience of the incarcerated. Eileen offers something different: the perspective of someone who works in the prison. The titular character is a secretary who is not herself imprisoned, and yet spends her days among the guards and the “quotidian horrors” of the facility. They’re no worse than the horrors she faces in her squalid home with her alcoholic father. What’s more, she is technically a criminal herself, just one who has escaped the clutches of the ‘justice’ system. This story reveals what a fine line separates the guards from the guarded.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

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It’s rare for fiction books about prison to shoot straight to the top of best-seller lists, even more so for them to achieve widespread critical acclaim at the same time, but that’s what happened for The Mars Room. This is a story about “a life gone off the rails in contemporary America”. It begins with a woman at the start of two consecutive life sentences in Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. She’s all too aware that the world continues to turn outside without her, but she’s thrust into a whole new world inside, with thousands of women who will seize upon anything that makes it easier to survive. It’s an unsentimental view of the experience of incarceration, and thus a very insightful one.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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An American Marriage is a fiction book about prison, but it’s also a lived reality for thousands of Americans (59% of incarcerated people in the U.S. are Black or Hispanic). Roy and Celestial, in Tayari Jones’s story, are a young and upwardly-mobile Black couple whose lives are derailed when Roy is accused and convicted of sexual assault. He is imprisoned, and she must forge her own path forward, knowing that time has stopped for him inside. They communicate via letters, and the reader gets to see the tides of their relationship ebb and flow as they grow into entirely different people than the young newlyweds they once were. Read my full review of An American Marriage here.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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Here’s one of the more lighthearted fiction books about prison (though it will still scare the pants off most readers, especially those not particularly well-versed in horror). Horrorstor is set in a haunted furniture superstore, where employees must spend the night to trace the source of acts of vandalism that have plagued the retailer. They discover that the superstore was built on the grounds of a notorious former prison, and the inmates who died there aren’t done haunting the place just because it’s got a new name. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s still great fun. Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

The Speechwriter by Martin McKenzie-Murray

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After the past few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking political satire is dead. The Speechwriter proves it isn’t so. It’s one of the fiction books about prison that is criminally underrated, and definitely deserves to be read more widely. The story is styled as the prison memoir of Toby, former speechwriter to the Prime Minister of Australia and current inmate of Sunshine correctional facility. It is edited (with frequent footnote asides) from his murderous cellmate Garry. Together, they weave a tale so extraordinary you can’t help but believe it. This is dark humour at its finest. Read my full review of The Speechwriter here.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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The operators of the facility in The Nickel Boys would probably balk at it being called a prison – they call it as a “reform school”, but let’s be real. It’s a place where troubled boys are sent by order of a judge, they can’t leave and they’re treated horribly. This is a really dark book, one that’s all the more horrifying for knowing that it’s based on the real-life Dozier School where “students” were subjected to extensive abuse and cruelty. The only upside of Whitehead’s fictional version is that there is a reckoning, and former “students” of the Nickel Academy come together to expose the administrators and seek justice. Read my full review of The Nickel Boys here.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. Little Dorrit might be over 150 years old, and yet it still reflects the capriciousness of fate and the societal forces that might conspire to send someone to prison. Dickens drew upon his own experience, the shame and fear he felt about his father’s time in debtor’s prison, and wrote a story much darker than many of his earlier works but also, perhaps, more pertinent. This story doesn’t just explore the practical realities of imprisonment in the 19th century, but the psychological ramifications for both the imprisoned and their community that are timeless.

Bonus: This doesn’t really ‘count’ among fiction books about prison per se, but I couldn’t put together this list without at least mentioning it. The Fancies by Kim Lock is a great book about post-incarceration life, returning to the community after a period in prison, and the self-perpetuating cycle of engagement with the criminal justice system. Read my full review of The Fancies here.

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